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The Decision to Delay Social Security Benefits: Theory and Evidence

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  • John B. Shoven
  • Sita Nataraj Slavov

Abstract

Social Security benefits may be commenced at any time between age 62 and age 70. As individuals who claim later can, on average, expect to receive benefits for a shorter period, an actuarial adjustment is made to the monthly benefit amount to reflect the age at which benefits are claimed. We investigate the actuarial fairness of this adjustment. Our simulations suggest that delaying is actuarially advantageous for a large subset of people, particularly for real interest rates of 3.5 percent or below. The gains from delaying are greater at lower interest rates, for married couples relative to singles, for single women relative to single men, and for two-earner couples relative to one-earner couples. In a two-earner couple, the gains from deferring the primary earner's benefit are greater than the gains from deferring the secondary earner's benefit. We then use panel data from the Health and Retirement Study to investigate whether individuals' actual claiming behavior appears to be influenced by the degree of actuarial advantage to delaying. We find no evidence of a consistent relationship between claiming behavior and factors that influence the actuarial advantage of delay, including gender and marital status, interest rates, subjective discount rates, or subjective assessments of life expectancy.

Suggested Citation

  • John B. Shoven & Sita Nataraj Slavov, 2012. "The Decision to Delay Social Security Benefits: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 17866, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17866
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Steven A. Sass & Wei Sun & Anthony Webb, 2008. "When Should Married Men Claim Social Security Benefits?," Issues in Brief ib2008-8-4, Center for Retirement Research, revised Mar 2008.
    2. repec:aei:rpbook:24949 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Andrew G. Biggs, 2011. "Social Security: The Story of Its Past and a Vision for Its Future," Books, American Enterprise Institute, number 6033, July.
    4. Menahem E. Yaari, 1965. "Uncertain Lifetime, Life Insurance, and the Theory of the Consumer," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 32(2), pages 137-150.
    5. Gopi Shah Goda & John B. Shoven & Sita Nataraj Slavov, 2011. "Implicit Taxes on Work from Social Security and Medicare," Tax Policy and the Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25(1), pages 69-88.
    6. Coile, Courtney & Diamond, Peter & Gruber, Jonathan & Jousten, Alain, 2002. "Delays in claiming social security benefits," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(3), pages 357-385, June.
    7. Monika Bütler & Federica Teppa, 2007. "The Choice between an Annuity and a Lump Sum: Results from Swiss Pension Funds," NBER Chapters,in: Public Policy and Retirement, Trans-Atlantic Public Economics Seminar (TAPES), pages 1944-1966 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Michael D. Hurd & James P. Smith & Julie M. Zissimopoulos, 2004. "The effects of subjective survival on retirement and Social Security claiming," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(6), pages 761-775.
    9. Alicia H. Munnell & Alex Golub-Sass & Nadia Karamcheva, 2009. "Strange But True: Claim Social Security Now, Claim More Later," Issues in Brief ib2009-9-9, Center for Retirement Research, revised Apr 2009.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gustman, Alan L. & Steinmeier, Thomas L., 2015. "Effects of social security policies on benefit claiming, retirement and saving," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 51-62.
    2. Raimond Maurer & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2016. "Older People’s Willingness to Delay Social Security Claiming," Working Papers wp346, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    3. Andreas Hubener & Raimond Maurer & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2016. "How Family Status and Social Security Claiming Options Shape Optimal Life Cycle Portfolios," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 29(4), pages 937-978.
    4. Horneff, Vanya & Maurer, Raimond & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2017. "How persistent low expected returns alter optimal life cycle saving, investment, and retirement behavior," SAFE Working Paper Series 190, Research Center SAFE - Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, Goethe University Frankfurt.
    5. Maurer, Raimond & Mitchell, Olivia S. & Rogalla, Ralph & Schimetschek, Tatjana, 2017. "Optimal social security claiming behavior under lump sum incentives: Theory and evidence," SAFE Working Paper Series 164, Research Center SAFE - Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe, Goethe University Frankfurt.
    6. Alan Gustman & Thomas Steinmeier & Nahid Tabatabai, 2014. "Distributional Effects of Means Testing Social Security: An Exploratory Analysis," Working Papers wp306, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    7. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 2012. "Behavioral Effects of Social Security Policies on Benefit Claiming, Retirement and Saving," Working Papers wp263, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions

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